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Introduction to Public Health for Environmental Engineers: Results from a Three-year Pilot

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Environmental Engineering Division Technical Session 3

Tagged Division

Environmental Engineering

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Paper Authors


Daniel B. Oerther Missouri University of Science & Technology Orcid 16x16

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Professor Daniel B. Oerther, PhD, PE, BCEE, CEng, D.AAS, F.AAN, F.RSA, F.RSPH joined the faculty of the Missouri University of Science and Technology in 2010 after ten years on the faculty of the University of Cincinnati where he served as Head of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Since 2014, he has concurrently served as a Senior Policy Advisor to the U.S. Secretary of State in the areas of environment, science, technology, and health (ESTH). Oerther earned his B.A. in biological sciences and his B.S. in environmental health engineering from Northwestern University (1995), and he earned his M.S. (1998) in environmental health engineering and his Ph.D. (2002) from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He has completed postgraduate coursework in Microbial Ecology from the Marine Biology Laboratory, Environmental Health from the University of Cincinnati, Public Health from The Johns Hopkins University, and Public Administration from Indiana University, Bloomington. Oerther is a licensed Professional Engineer (PE, DC, MO, and OH), Board Certified in Environmental Engineering (BCEE) by the American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientist (AAEES), and registered as a Chartered Engineer (CEng) by the U.K. Engineering Council. He is recognized as a Diplomate of the American Academy of Sanitarians (D.AAS). His scholarship, teaching, service, and professional practice focus in the fields of environmental biotechnology and sustainable development where he specializes in promoting Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WaSH), food and nutrition security, energy efficiency, and poverty alleviation. Oerther's awards for teaching include the best paper award from the Environmental Engineering Division of ASEE, as well as recognition from the NSPE, the AAEES, and the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors (AEESP). He participated in both the 2006 and the 2015 conferences of the National Academies Keck Futures Initiative (NAKFI) as well as the 2011 Frontiers of Engineering Education Symposium (FOEE) of the U.S. National Academies. Oerther is a four-time recipient of Fulbright, and he has been recognized with a Meritorious Honor Award by the U.S. Department of State. Due to his collaborations with nurses and healthcare professionals, Professor Oerther has been inducted as a Lifetime Honorary Member of Sigma Theta Tau, the International Honor Society of Nursing (STTI), and he has been inducted as a Lifetime Honorary Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing (F.AAN). Dan is also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (F.RSA) and a Fellow of the Royal Society for Public Health (F.RSPH).

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A lecture-discussion format augmented with extended homework assignments and a term project was used to teach public health to approximately 25 dual-level (upper UG and first year G) students pursuing baccalaureate degrees in environmental, civil, or architectural engineering or a graduate degree in environmental engineering. To improve learning, the course was modified from a prior offering to include blended, flipped, and mastery pedagogy. Impacts on student learning were evaluated using an anonymous survey administered in the semester following completion of the course.

This paper describes: a) changes in the course using blended, flipped, and mastery pedagogy as well as the integration of Diplomacy Lab for the term project; b) an analysis of outcomes from three course offerings over a period of three years including student demographics (Myers-Briggs and Learning Styles Inventory) and student assessments (graded assignments and anonymous course surveys), and c) correlations to student satisfaction as measured with an anonymous survey administered in the semester following completion of the course.

There has been a recent resurgence in calls for integrating public health training into the curriculum for environmental engineers and scientists. For example, Mihelcic and co-authors (2016) recently argued that environmental engineering and science in the 21st century benefits from, “understand[ing] the importance of historical perspective as we transition forward.” In particular, our students need to learn from and build upon the work accomplished during the Great Sanitary Awakening, which emerged in England in the latter half of the 1800s. Closer to home, Edwards and Pruden (2016) argued for, “overturning the research paradigm to … defend public welfare,” in the wake of the discovery of lead in drinking water in Flint, Michigan. Whether working globally to promote water, sanitation, and hygiene (WaSH) access among peoples of developing countries or working locally to manage the risks associated with environmental determinants of health, there is clear value in teaching environmental engineers and scientists the basics of public health research, practice, and policy.

The alignment of “environmental engineering” and “public health” is captured formally in the relationships shared among a number of professional organizations. For example, the American Public Health Association (APHA) appoints a Trustee to the Board of the American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists (AAEES). Furthermore, the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) provides a venue for the annual gathering of the Diplomates of the American Academy of Sanitarians (AAS) – which is similar to the Board Certified status of Environmental Engineers and Environmental Scientists within the AAEES.

The purpose of this paper is to share the format and the experiences gained from three offerings of a pilot course, “Public Health Engineering.” The course description includes: “This course examines the engineering aspects of public health protection. Emphasis is placed upon providing an introduction to many of the biological and chemical hazards that impact human health, particularly from anthropogenic origins. Basic epidemiological concepts will be introduced and utilized throughout the course. These concepts provide a framework to assess both existing and emerging threats to human health and how we can mitigate those threats through better understanding, engineering, and policy decisions.” A unique aspect of this course is the integration of Diplomacy Lab from the US Department of State as the subject material for an integrative term project. Over the past three years, the term projects have examined the policies and communication tools needed to address the threat of microbial antibiotic resistance as well as the use of epidemiology to identify threats of localized outbreaks of communicable disease arising from prison populations co-located with communities of non-prisoners in developing countries. This paper will include an appropriate background referencing prior ASEE conference publications including: Bielefeldt et al, 2006, Pumphrey et al, 2006, and Mitchell et al, 2017.

The take home messages for this paper include: (1) a substantial investment of time may be needed to create course content using blended, flipped, and mastery pedagogy; (2) group and individual work, oral presentations, and essays can be used side-by-side with quizzes, midterms, and a final exam to create an ‘all-you-care-to-eat buffet approach’ to earn grades; and (3) Diplomacy Lab provides an effective tool integrating public health risk assessment and engineering risk management.

Citations: Mihelcic et al, 2016, Environ Eng Sci, DOI: 10.1089/ees.2015.0334 Edwards and Pruden, 2016, Environ Sci Technol, DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.6b03573 Mitchell, et al, 2017, Bielefeldt, et al, 2006, Pumphrey, et al, 2006,

Oerther, D. B. (2018, June), Introduction to Public Health for Environmental Engineers: Results from a Three-year Pilot Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30720

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